Summer break is in session, but from June 3 to 7 at New Albany Primary School, 119 students entering kindergarten to sixth grade were in classrooms using critical thinking and teamwork skills in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math.

A program that focuses on the use of recycled materials to create inventions, Camp Invention is held across the country. Last summer, the program was attended by nearly 130,000 children at 1,800 sites across the country, according to a program fact sheet.

Twelve sites in Franklin County participate in the program, although some are private schools that aren't affiliated with a district, said Camp Invention spokesman Ken Torisky.

At New Albany Primary School, the students participated in five one-hour classes each day of the program, said Susan Mahan, the director of the district's Camp Invention program. The program is conducted at no cost to the district, but families pay to enroll students in the program, she said.

"We have quite a few that return each year because they enjoy it so much," Mahan said.

Students from outside the New Albany-Plain Local School District also may participate, she said.

Some students stay on as they grow older to serve as counselors in training (available for grades 7-10) or leadership interns (available for grades 11-12).

One such student is incoming New Albany High School junior Mason Carstens. The 16-year-old said he first participated in Camp Invention as a third-grader and returned every year following that.

Problem solving was the biggest skill Carstens learned from his experience in the program, he said. He recalled brainstorming creative ways to use recycled material.

Now that he is a leadership intern, Carstens said, he guides students and helps teachers, making sure students are where they need to be.

Evan Saribalas, a New Albany High School senior, said he also began participating in Camp Invention as an elementary school student.

"I think it's definitely taught me life skills," the 18-year-old said, including punctuality, problem solving and now helping children but also letting them figure things out independently.

Learning STEM skills is important for students because it includes many fields of study, Saribalas said.

"When they're here at camp, they get a little bit of everything," he said.

On June 4, fourth-graders were making tunnels and bridges out of recycled materials to support remote-controlled robots.

Rosemary Phelps, a New Albany-Plain Local third-grade teacher leading the class, said she planned to use the project for her own class when school resumes in August.

Fellow Camp Invention participants Lyla Hamilton, a fourth-grader at Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools' Blacklick Elementary School, and Avery Hersch, a fourth-grader at New Albany Intermediate School, were working together on the project.

Both girls participated in the program last year.

Lyla, 9, said she enjoys decorating, building and inventing, as well as being able to take home what she creates.

The girls and their classmates were able to decorate their robots as part of the project.

Avery, 9, gave her robot a top hat made of felt and a paper cup.

"We get to experiment with a lot of different things," she said.

ssole@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSarah